There are two marathoners in the office here at work. They share a wall and have the same view from the 9th floor of the Tower of the Hills Building here in Northwest Austin.
In fact, 6 bibs hang in frames across the shared wall between the two offices. Each bib is from the runner’s PR race at the 1 mile, 5K, 10K, 10-mile, Half-Marathon and Marathon distances – the times and dates printed below.
In the center of that same wall is a frame holding the bib, race medal and a few race photos from the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon – the race where the runner qualified for Boston for the first time.
On the other side of the wall sits a marathoner who in 12 days will not be showing up for the next race he is registered for, the 21st running of the Austin Marathon. He is on the shelf, injured, a little depressed, very frustrated and perhaps just a bit envious of the other runner.
So it goes.
We train, we race, we suffer setbacks, we sometimes get injured, we regroup and we return. We are marathoners.
For the past 10 months and 1 day, I have been healthy. I have gone from race to race, event to event, training period to training period and I have been able to shake off the effects of those hard days, regroup over my easy days and keep the needle moving forward.
Over those 10 months of consistent training at the age of 44 I have set new PR’s in the mile (5:07), 10K (37:30) and a 6 minute and 52 second PR in the New York Marathon (3:08:09). How is that happening? How is that possible? Shouldn’t I be getting slower? Aren’t setting PR’s a thing of the past?
The key has been staying healthy. Not having an injury set-back that robs me of the ability to train, recover, grow stronger and then train hard once again. Every time a runner has to take 4 or 5 weeks off from running due to an injury – all of the gains made over the past 3-4 months can quickly disappear.
As the runner returns to training it takes another 3-4 months just to return to their pre-injury level. Then as they start to move the needle forward again, oftentimes another injury rears its head and the cycle starts all over again.
Last March, as I logged a total of 5 miles for the month, battling some knee inflamation on my left side, I had to for the first time skip a race. The Cap 10K here in Austin. One of the largest 10K’s in the country, the largest in the state of Texas. The day when the entire city of Austin is out running – I was home riding my tri-bike on the trainer in the garage.
I was on the shelf, injured, a little depressed, very frustrated and VERY envious of the other runners who were out there doing their thing.
I was also determined once and for all to learn from my past mistakes and do everything I could to reduce the chance of getting injured.
Now, to an extent, there is only so much you can do if you are training to “race” and not simply “run”. Yes, if I dialed back the intensity at which I train and simply logged 8 minute and 30 second miles day after day, I’m pretty sure I could run about as far and as long as I wanted to without getting injured.
But as long as the goal remains to get “faster”, you have to train at an intensity level that is going to stress your musculature and your aerobic capacity enough to create change and force adaptation. Then as you recover from those hard workouts, your body responds and you “improve” or “get faster”.
The trick is managing those recovery periods and knowing when to back off things a bit to minimize those injury risks. To stay healthy – and in my case, to do so for an entire year. I set a goal for myself to be running and racing consistently for 12 months straight. No injuries, no time off.
I felt that if I could do that, the results would come. Being able to continue to train on a consistent basis would take me to another level, and if I had to religiously stick to a 5-day per week run schedule, and take every Monday and Friday off to remain off of the injury list – then that is what I would do.
Some of the best advice in racing is to block out everyone else and simply “run your race”.
Stick to your plan, stay with your pace and do not get caught up in what “everyone” else is doing.
For some reason however, the same people who recite that mantra at every race they enter do not take that same advice when it comes to training. If they see someone running 10 days in a row, they want to do that. If someone is running 60 miles a week, they want to do that as well.
Run streaks? Someone has run 45 days in a row? Boy – they must be fit. I need to do that ….
Someone is running in minimalist shoes? Man, I need to get a pair of those, my trainers are too heavy ….
And so goes the cycle. Soon, before they know it, they have overburdened their body and instead of a 45 day run streak, they are now on a 45 day off streak, trying to fight back from an injury.
Now is not the time to get all self-righteous, as I continue to learn more and more about this sport every single day. I KNOW that I am going to be injured again. It is simply a matter of when, not if. But the more that I can do to reduce the chance of that occurring as well as the frequency and most importantly the severity of those injuries – I will be able to continue to improve as a runner and keep pushing off the inevitable “slow-down” that is going to occur as I add birthdays to my ledger.
There will come a time when running a bunch of 8:30’s is going to make me smile. Make me feel “fast” – as speed is all relative.
But that day is not today. Not even close. We are healthy and we are blessed.
I told myself the last time I was injured to never forget the gift that is being able to run pain-free. I’ve held on to that tightly for 10 months and a day now, taking every day as the gift that it truly is.
Here’s to another 2 months – placing us on the other side of the Boston Marathon. From there, we’ll try to go for another 12 months.
That is the only kind of “run streak” I’m interested in.